Friday, June 13, 2014

I'm So Emotional! Creating Authentic Character Emotions

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Creating character emotions remains one of my toughest challenges as a budding novelist. To truly mine these characters and put them forth on the screen as though they were living and breathing, without making it seem cardboard is in one word: a challenge.

But what’s novel creation without a challenge to the writer? The more of a challenge the more we often have to pour ourselves into the writing of it.

Oftentimes while writing a novel, the harder we try to make it work, the stiffer the words show up on the page. It’s while trying to make everything fit and make sense and mold do we find we’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

How do we craft character emotions that strive true on the page? How is it when we sit down to write a book, we are able to make these figments of our imagination actually stand strong against the wind of our critics?

We plumb the depths for these seemingly illusive character emotions. It’s the hardest, most challenging part of our creation process, but cheat on these corners and all your readers will know.

It’s easy when you sit down to write a scene to say “she was sad”. It’s simple. Gets the point across without a lot of purple prose and we can move on to more important description. But is your character’s main reactions in this scene because she is sad? Then that will affect how she interacts with her surroundings, the other characters on the stage, etc. It just doesn’t end with “she was sad”.

One of the best descriptions I’ve heard from a writing instructor is in Brandilyn Collin’s Getting Into Character. Want to write a murder mystery, but never had the inclination to kill? Oh, but wait. What about the fly that was buzzing around your ears? Didn’t you just want to snap it out of the air and smash it between your fingers? Didn’t you grab the fly swatter and stack that maddening insect for fifteen minutes just to smash its guts against the window?  

See? I don’t have a killer bone in my body, but read in just that context, you might think I have the coldest of human hearts.

So your character is sad? Think actions. Not words. What would she physically do to show her sorrow? What do you physically do when you’re sad? Sit on the corner of the sofa and stare into space? Bake a dozen cupcakes? Purge your junk drawer? Weed a garden?
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Give your characters a physical action do based upon their emotions. This will look different for every character, just like it looks different for every human. Same emotions, different reactions. Keep it consistent throughout the book and share those actions with your characters’ external or internal dialogue.

Combine both for a powerful combination and then take it another layer deeper. Tighten the description. Shorten the sentences. Break up the paragraphs. Make the emotions breathe on the page. Go deeper. Go deeper in layers. It makes the entire process easier to tackle and each time you go through, layering and adding. Subtracting and tightening, you’ll refine those emotions until they become powerful tools.

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people. 



Day Dreamer said...

Definitely agree with the show don't tell technique! It took me a long time to grasp it fully but once it's there on the page it just works wonders for the entire story.

Casey said...

Same here, Day Dreamer. It's a hard concept to grasp, but once learned, wow, it really makes the story shine!

Rachelle O'Neil said...

I think that whole "tightening" section will be the hardest for me. But overstatement will kill emotion as easily as not describing it at all. Thanks for the post, Casey!

Casey said...

I know!! Tell me about it, Bluebelle! I love description and sharing it in my books but too much will definitely kill a story. Less is more! :)

Unknown said...

You've got me thinking now... :)